An introduction to long tail keywords

Posted by Mal Darwen on 31 Jul, 2013
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An introduction to finding and working with long tail keywords.


The long tail of keyword research is fundamental to your online success. That's really important, so I'll say it again. The long tail of keyword research is fundamental to your online success.

I'll tell you how to work with long tail keywords on your site to benefit your customers, improve conversions, and boost your visibility in search results.

What is a long tail keyword?

A long tail keyword is a keyword (or, rather, a search that has been made on the internet) which is really specific to something that the searcher is looking for. So, if, for example, you're selling exterior paint, your research may lead you to discover that there are real people (your potential customers) out there who have asked "can exterior paint be used on interior walls", for example.

It's very a specific phrase, and by answering that question on your site, you can attract traffic for that term, and in turn link out from your helpful article to some of your recommended products. Similarly, you may discover that other people are searching online for "exterior paint for aluminum shutters" - and again, that's an opportunity for you to use long tail keywords to optimize your pages.

These two examples are long tail keywords - and as I said, they're very specific to the searcher's needs.

They do generally have lower search volumes, which implies that there's less traffic available to a page optimizing for them, but there's also less competition for those keywords, so it's easier to rank for them. It's much easier to rank highly for a long term keyword like "exterior paint for aluminum shutters" than it is for a more general keyword like "paint."

Also, it's likely that someone searching for "exterior paint for aluminum shutters" is closer to a buying decision on a specific product that someone searching for a more general term like "paint." The person searching for "paint" is probably at the start of their research.

This graph outlines the relationship between long tail keywords and shorter keywords (or 'head' keywords) and their search volumes - and conversion rates.

Long tail.

To get the most value from these keywords, though, it's best to implement them on your site in a clear and easy-to-navigate way.

For example, using a fictitious paint website, I've done some keyword research to start mapping out my exterior paint category. I've found some cool stuff to help me start choosing the keywords I want to use - and it looks a little like this:

So we can see that for the human visitor to your site and also (crucially) for a search engine, there's a clear path (ideally using clear anchor text). That path runs from the home page at (optimized for my primary keyword 'paint') through the "exterior paint" category page, right down to individual product pages optimized for those longer tail keywords which are designed to match a searcher's needs really specifically.

But how did we find these keywords?

Here's my process in the Wordtracker keyword tool:

1) My initial search was on "paint" - this shows me lots of keywords (2,000 in fact!). But I can see that "exterior paint" is near the top of the list, suggesting that there are more keywords behind that one that might be helpful to use. In fact, several of those keywords at the top of the "paint" list could be categories that I could use on my site - "paint color chart", "spray paint", and so on.

2) I just hit the 'search' link next to the "exterior paint" keyword, and I'm then shown all of the "exterior paint" keywords. By going through and assessing these (there are some guides on this in last week's video about understanding Wordtracker's numbers), I can decide which to use on my site.

There may even be longer tail keywords that I can identify by using the 'search' link again. For example, drilling down into "exterior paint color" shows me another 332 keywords - perhaps not all of these will be appropriate, but some of them (or even combinations of them) may be helpful in terms of providing ideas on what to build the most useful content around so that your visitors see what's really relevant to what they're searching on.

3) Publish your pages, and use your analytics to see which ones are performing better (look at traffic, conversions, or other goals you have set up).

Perhaps some of the pages need to have the keywords changed around, or perhaps you need to identify some other areas to build content around. This is a natural part of organic SEO, and because the world of search is so fluid, it's helpful to check your research every once in a while to make sure you're capturing fresh searches to work with. It's a cycle that never stops...

So, now we know:

  • What long tail keywords are.
  • How to find them in keyword research.
  • How to map them to our site to make sure they're implemented in an effective way to help search engines and humans find your pages.

And you're all good to go. I bet you can find inspiration for more content, or better content in your keyword research, once you go deep enough.

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